Is Fentanyl Deadly? Understanding the Dangers of Fentanyl

Fentanyl has been touted to be “more dangerous” than heroin, but what is the reason behind it? Understanding how deadly fentanyl is and the dangers of its abuse can help serve as a wake-up call to battle an addiction.

According to an article published in US News, there has been a rise in meth and fentanyl use in 2019. The previous year saw a five-fold increase from 1% testing positive in 2013 to 5% yielding fentanyl use in 2019. Despite the information campaigns in the dangers of fentanyl abuse, what gives to these skyrocketing numbers?

Everything you need to know about fentanyl

There are many reasons why people get hooked on fentanyl, but one of the probable causes for the sudden jump in abuse of this substance is its highly potent effects and widespread use in the health sector for severe pain relief.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl, a synthetic type of opioid, is known to be 80 times more powerful than the chemical morphine. It is from the family of narcotic analgesics, which produces the same effects of drugs such as heroin, codeine, and morphine.

What is fentanyl used for?

It is often used to treat pain symptoms after surgery, cancer chemotherapy, and conditions such as fibromyalgia. Chronic pain sufferers may also receive a fentanyl prescription if they report severe symptoms. People who abuse the drug may use it for recreational purposes to get feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief even when fentanyl isn’t prescribed.

In the United States, fentanyl prescribed medication brands are Duragesic, Ionsys. Subsys, and Abstral. It can either be taken orally, intravenously or through the use of transdermal patches. It is also important to know that fentanyl has a black box warning implemented by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Fentanyl warnings indicate that it has a high potential of abuse even after the first dose. Consequently, illicit fentanyl drugs disguised as heroin are extremely dangerous, as people who take it may not be able to handle its potency.

Fentanyl patch

Another special type of fentanyl commonly given to patients with severe pain is the transdermal patch. Many people wonder if touching these patches will lead to an overdose and subsequent death. According to an article in Live Science, the simple answer is yes.

As fentanyl transdermal goes subcutaneously, the drug enters the bloodstream like the oral or intravenous route. Although much more slowly, constant skin contact with these patches can increase the dosage entering the body. Overdose and death can happen through this route as well.

Street names for fentanyl

Listed below are also some of the common street names of fentanyl, although be aware that even when given these labels, one cannot be certain of other components or potency of the drug in each bag or packet.

  • China white
  • China girl
  • Apace
  • Goodfellas
  • China town
  • Great bear
  • He-man
  • Poison
  • Tango and Cash
  • Dance Fever

Facts on fentanyl abuse

  • 59% of opioid-related deaths are due to fentanyl abuse.
  • The numbers of those who have a fentanyl addiction have risen to more than 5 times from 2010 to 2017.
  • Fentanyl is highly addictive because of its fast-acting effects, leading to an increased chance of accidental overdose.
  • Street fentanyl overdose is even more common as some illegal manufacturers add other drugs in the mix such as heroin or MDMA in the packages.

As fentanyl abuse and overdoses continue to rise, it is important to educate the public about its true effects.

Side effects of fentanyl

Aside from its intended use, fentanyl exhibits a host of other side effects that can occur whether someone uses the drug based on medical recommendations or not. Below are some of the well-known physical and psychological effects of fentanyl use:

  • Feelings of happiness: People who take fentanyl express feelings of relaxation or “euphoria” as with other types of opioids. This is because fentanyl attaches itself to opioid receptors in the brain, triggering dopamine release.
  • Sleepiness or unconsciousness: Fentanyl is also known to be a vital organ depressant, which means most vital organs will slow down in functioning under the influence of this drug. As a result, a person may feel drowsy or even pass out when taking fentanyl.
  • Nausea: Since this drug is highly potent, there is also a likelihood of experiencing nausea especially on the initial doses. Nausea is the body’s response to any foreign substance taken in potent amounts.
  • Constipation: Slower organ functioning also results in a decreased pace in digestion, which leads to constipation.
  • Breathing problems: Another effects of vital organ depression, a person may experience slow breathing because of decreased lung activity.

These fentanyl side effects when highly pronounced due to large doses of the drug may be deadly. As a result, many people also wonder what is the lethal dose of fentanyl.

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Understanding fentanyl overdose

So, how does fentanyl kill you, and what amount is considered deadly? The truth is, there is no standard amount of fentanyl use that can kill anybody. Some can experience overdose and death at 1 mg of fentanyl, but others take more. This is because of several factors such as:

  • Drug tolerance: People who have a history of substance abuse may be able to handle higher amounts of the drug, although it is not certain up to what extent.
  • Mixture of other substances: Street fentanyl drugs are laced with other substances such as cocaine, heroin, or MDMA. The reactions between these chemicals can cause dangerous and even life-threatening effects.
  • Body type: People who have faster metabolisms, physically weak, or immunocompromised are more prone to experiencing a fentanyl overdose or death.
  • Relapse: If you have previously stopped using fentanyl and went on a relapse, this decreases your drug tolerance which puts you at risk for overdose or fatal effects.

However, as a general guideline provided by the DEA, 2 milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose to most people. Commonly, the route as to how most people experience overdose and death is through the following processes:

High amounts of the fentanyl taken on one dose

The high amounts of fentanyl may produce severe side effects, most specifically vital organ depression. Researchers have shown the effects of fentanyl such as slow heart rate, decreased respiratory activity, and irregular functioning of other vital organs.

Vital organ dysfunction

Overdose through opioids such as fentanyl causes vital organ dysfunction. This means that the heart may stop beating, or the lungs will eventually cease to function because of high doses of the drug. As a result, the person may experience the typical signs of organ dysfunction such as:

  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Bluish lips
  • Unconsciousness
  • Incomprehensible speech
  • Delirium
  • Nausea and vomiting

Overdose death

In cases where vital organ dysfunction symptoms are seen, emergency medical attention is required. Prolonged organ dysfunction by fentanyl overdose can cause a lack of oxygen supply in the brain, causing death.

Although the dangers of fentanyl overdose are displayed in informative sources, many are still not aware of its deadly consequences when abused long-term. Many rehab treatment centers recommend addressing a fentanyl addiction before it’s too late.

Fentanyl: Addictive, Potent, and Deadly

The goal of understanding the dangers of fentanyl abuse is not to cause fear but to encourage others to make informed choices about an addiction problem. As fentanyl is considered one of the most dangerous and yet most commonly addictive drugs of choice, knowing the potentially deadly consequences can encourage you or your loved ones to seek help.

Sources:

  • Usnews.com – “U.S. Saw Big Rise in Meth, Fentanyl Use in 2019”.
  • Emcdda.europa.eu – “Fentanyl drug profile”.
  • Dea.gov – “Fentanyl”.
  • Drugabuse.gov – “DrugFacts: Fentanyl”.
  • Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Characteristics of Fentanyl Overdose–Massachusetts, 2014-2016”.
  • Mayoclinic.org – “Fentanyl (Transdermal Route) Side Effects”.
  • Livescience.com – “Can Touching Fentanyl Really Kill You?”.
  • Journals.lww.com – “Anesthetic Requirements and Cardiovascular Effects of Fentanyl-Oxygen and Fentanyl-Diazepam-Oxygen Anesthesia in Man”.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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